09/25/2019, 17.17
FRANCE – ISLAM
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In the West, the renewal of Islam needs women

by Kamel Abderrahmani

For the first time in the history of France’s Muslim community, two women imams led a prayer in Paris on 14 September. For a young Muslim intellectual, "it is necessary for Muslims living in the West to take advantage of this context of tolerance, social and cultural change and rationality to update their religious practice”.

 

Paris (AsiaNews) – Muslims must break away from the religious methods and practices of the first Muslim generations if they want to come out of the conflictual and antagonistic situation with modernity and the cultures in which they live, this according to Kamel Abderrahmani, writing about the renewal of religious practice in Islam.

In the West, this process requires the fundamental contribution of a new player, one who has no say in the Middle Eastern Islamic tradition, namely women. “Arab culture,” writes Abderrahmani, “has influenced Islam in previous centuries, mixing with it and then giving birth to a parallel Islam later exported to the West. This is why I am defending the idea of ​​a Western Islam that is imbued with Western culture.” Here are his thoughts (Translation by AsiaNews).

Did you say a "woman imam "? Are you shocked? Why, anyway? The sky has not fallen and the earth has remained in its place and the evolution of religion is normal as long as it meets today’s demands. As far as Islam is concerned, this time, evolution and innovation are expressed in the West via women. In France for the first time in the history of the French Muslim community, two women imams led the prayer on Saturday, 14 September in Paris. They are Anne-Sophie Monsinay and Eva Janadin.

But which Muslim sect (Sunni/Shia) would accept such an innovation? To be a Muslim, must one not belong to a particular sect? I do not think so because one can be a liberal Muslim with one’s own interpretations and avoid blindly following old interpretations. No a single text spoke about it, explicitly evoking the importance and value of reflection in religion.

The Qurʼān encourages the believer in fifty verses to reflect on the texts and to meditate. As a result, reflecting is only an attempt to bring different thoughts and innovations to religious issues. Moreover, all religions have evolved and rid themselves of certain concepts, or introduced others to adapt to the society in which they existed. For example, music was introduced in Christianity. The latter "holds an important place in the religious ritual. It changes the availability in aspiration and, thereby, promotes the approach to the supernatural.” However, let me be clear, in Islam (Sunni/Shia), there is no single Islam; "All innovation is confusion." Thus, innovation and theological adaptation is taken for confusion even before starting; this tends to make any attempt at Islamic religious innovation "illegal".[1]

To be clear and unambiguous, Muslims must break away from the religious methods and practices of the first Muslim generations if they want to bring about the renewal of Islam and come out of this conflictual and antagonistic situation with modernity and the cultures in which it evolves. Such methods and practices stem from their social and cultural conditions, not a religious text. In other words, it's time to realise that the Islamic religion is neither an identity nor an ideology. One can be of a Muslim whilst being of Gaulish, Iberian, Romanic origin . . . If I say so it is because I have the impression that Islam through its two main branches (Sunni/Shia) has turned into a hegemonic ideology where everyone must conceive religious practice in the same way.

Certainly, some readers are going to ask whether we can transcend this practice, which is rooted in Muslims’ collective imagination. As no Qurʼānic text nor any prophetic tradition prohibit women from leading the prayer, no religious institution has the right to forbid them in the name of God from legitimately exercising the right to lead a prayer in the mosque. Yet, "One must realise that in most Muslim places of worship, women do not have the right to access the main prayer room. If one wants to admire the architecture of the prayer hall in the Great Mosque of Paris, she can only look in, but if she does go in, she could spark violent reactions from the men. Women are therefore exiled to the basement . . .". [2]  But I’ll go further, and dare say that even mixed prayers are not forbidden by the Qur'an.

The founding text of Islam, so to speak, does not raise this question and does not say a word about the imamate. No verse nuances the ban on women leading the prayer. In this case, I think the culture could possibly intervene to speak about the conditions in which the Imamate can be exercised. [3] If we go back in history, we can see how the Prophet Muhammad reacted less overcautiously to the issue based on the social norms (social codes) that permeated his context.

According to a hadith he had indeed allowed a woman to lead the prayer: Oum Waraqa. A pious woman from Madinah who knew the Qurʼān by heart. She was one of the "Companions of Muhammad", his closest followers. However, this hadith does not say whether Oum Waraqa only directed the women's prayer – like Aisha and Um Salama, wives of the Prophet – or a mixed assembly of men and women. Everything suggests that Muhammad dealt with the issue respecting the social code of his society, but in no way considered the former as illegal. That is to say, he left the issue open for debate for the generations who followed him.

Muslims who are hostile to the idea of ​​a woman leading a prayer use foolish arguments that are no longer relevant in our era, such as "A woman's body is provocative and can disrupt the concentration of men during prayer." If so, doesn’t the male body bother, does it not disturb the concentration of women? When will people stop reducing women to a body that only arouses sexual desire? Is sex the only bond between men and women? Does spirituality, i.e. the relationship between themselves and God lie in what is outer or is it inner? Is man so subordinate to the base instincts that dominate him to the point that he loses self-control even during prayer? It must be noted that the prayer is the moment of recollection par excellence, in which God is the only One who should exist in the mind of the believer at that point in time. How can a man that is in such a moment of devotion, be bothered by the completely covered body of a woman?

If I ask so many questions, it is not for get answers but to point out that the problem is primarily cultural. The predominantly Arab culture is unfavourable to the emancipation of women. This culture has influenced Islam as a religion and has introduced purely subjective and non-Qurʼānic recommendations and requirements. In other words, Arab culture has influenced Islam in previous centuries, mixing with it and then giving birth to a parallel Islam later exported to the West. This is why I am defending the idea of ​​a Western Islam that is imbued with Western culture.

Finally, we must realise that Western culture allows women to flourish and become more emancipated in all domains. To do the same, it is necessary for Muslims living in the West to take advantage of this context of tolerance, social and cultural change and rationality to update their religious practice so that it is coherent with the Western social codes and the socio-cultural contexts in which they live. This will free their religion from Salafism and change the practice of Islam so that it is no longer under the traditional religious yoke. The latter tries to recreate the same social context in which the Prophet Muhammad lived for Muslims to live their religion but that is what is killing Islam today. Islam, like all other religions, must be diluted in the cultures that welcome Muslims in order to avoid fatal conflicts.


[1] See Jabir Ibn Abdillah, as narrated by Nasai in his Sunan n° 1578, authenticated by Sheikh Albani in his correction of Sunan Nasai).

[2] Virginie Larousse, “Mon imame est une femme,” in Le Monde Des religions, 26 April 2019,  http://www.lemondedesreligions.fr/papier/2019/95/mon-imam-est-une-femme-26-04-2019-8038_251.php.

[3] Dossier “Ces femmes qui bousculent les religions,” in Le Monde Des religions, 27 July 2017, http://www.lemondedesreligions.fr/papier/2017/84/ces-femmes-qui-bousculent-les-religions-27-06-2017-6370_236.php.

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